The essence of the ‘Net

a history of the protocols that hold the network together

By Johnny Ryan

Johnny Ryan’s A History of the Internet and the Digital Future has just been released and is already drawing rave reviews. Ars Technica is proud to present three chapters from the book, condensed and adapted for our readers. You can find Chapter 1 here. The current installment is adapted from Chapter 3, "The Essence of the Internet," and it tells the story of the development of some of the fundamental technologies and protocols that underlie the Internet.

Chapter 3: The Essence of the Internet

The Internet is a loose arrangement of connected but autonomous networks of devices. Each device, a "host" in networking jargon, uses a "protocol" to communicate with other devices on the network. These protocols tie together diverse networks and govern communication between all computers on the Internet. Not only are the protocols elemental to the Internet and how it works, but the unique collaboration between their designers was the formative event of Internet culture. In as much as any single element of the whole can be, these protocols are the essence of the Internet. The remarkable manner in which a team of young collaborators developed these protocols set the tone for the future development of Internet culture. As their work on the protocols proceeded they began to establish the informal conventions that would characterize the tone of collaboration and discussion on the Internet thereafter. The process began in a bathroom, late on the night of April 7, 1969.

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